We’ve all heard the advice to eat plenty of fiber, but it’s not always easy to do. If you’ve been slow to switch to a higher-fiber diet, here’s more motivation. This important nutrient can help relieve a host of menopause-related symptoms.

What is Fiber and Why Is It So Good for Us?

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plants, including grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. “It’s the skeletal structure of a plant,” says Iris Epstein, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, and founder of Nutrition Improvement Center in Pomona, New York. Fiber encourages the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, and it helps clean out harmful buildup and bacteria.

Some health concerns can grow worse as we age. For many women, eating a healthy amount of fiber is one way to level the field and keep feeling your best. Here’s how fiber can help you stay healthy in midlife. 

Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease.  Cholesterol levels often rise during menopause. Fiber helps lower “bad” cholesterol, which in turn lowers the chances of heart attacks.

Keeps Blood Sugars Balanced. Fiber prevents sugars from being absorbed too quickly. Epstein says, “Pretend you’re in a swimming pool of clear water and swimming to the other side is quick and easy. If you add piles of seaweed, the pace of swimming is slowed down. So fiber in the intestinal system slows down the processing of sugars so they don’t spike so high.” 

High blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. “Because fiber helps regulate blood sugar, when you eat fiber, you’re also helping regulate insulin,” says Epstein. Healthy insulin levels help you maintain a healthy weight. “Insulin tells the body to store fat,” says Epstein. “That’s not the best thing for someone in menopause. High fiber has a way of keeping the body from going into fat storage mode.”

Curbs Appetite. Besides regulating blood sugar, fiber has another huge weight-loss benefit. “Fiber increases the feeling of satiety,” says Epstein. “That’s especially helpful for women who are struggling with weight loss. Fiber makes us feel fuller for longer.” 

Reduces Depression. More research is needed, but several studies suggest that ramping up fiber intake can ease depression symptoms. There’s some evidence it can help with anxiety as well.

Maintains Gut Health. A healthy gut lowers the risk of many diseases, from some autoimmune disorders to digestive problems to certain types of cancer. “When the gut is balanced, the cellular integrity of the intestines is strong. You don’t have anything eating away at the lining,” says Epstein. 

For most people, a high-fiber diet nourishes intestinal health. “Think of the intestines like a neighborhood full of good people, and then one rotten family moves in, then another, then another. Lots of sugar and junk food fills the intestines with bad neighbors,” says Epstein. “When you bring fiber into your diet, you’re inviting good neighbors in.” These “good neighbors” help keep the digestive system healthy, reduce inflammation, and cleanse toxins. 

Eases Constipation (Sometimes). Many women experience constipation during and after menopause, and adding fiber can be a key part of staying regular. But it isn’t a universal cure. For a few people, increasing fiber intake makes constipation worse! If you have chronic constipation or a digestive condition like diverticulitis, talk with your healthcare provider about whether more fiber will be helpful for you.

How To Get Enough Fiber During Menopause

Most adults of all ages don’t eat enough fiber. The Institutes of Medicine recommend 25 grams a day for women under 50, and 21 grams for women over 50. But Epstein says it’s more helpful to think of fiber intake in terms of a ratio. “What’s important is to make sure a certain percentage of our carb intake comes from fiber sources,” she says. The USDA recommends 14 grams for every 1,000 calories of food, but individual diets and needs vary.

You can enjoy fiber in many everyday foods. It comes in different forms, including soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which doesn’t dissolve. Each form benefits the body in different ways. You don’t need to calculate the exact amount of each type of fiber you consume. Instead, focus on eating a variety of fiber-rich foods.

If you can’t get enough fiber in your diet, consider a  supplement. But keep in mind that supplements and “fiber-enriched” processed foods lack important nutrients. Whole, natural foods are best.

Safely Increasing Fiber Intake

Add fiber to your diet slowly. Too much can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Easy first steps include eating fruit with the skin on or replacing white bread with whole wheat. Spread out your fiber intake throughout the day and drink plenty of water to help your body process it.

If you have a digestive condition like diverticulitis, Crohn’s Disease, or an intestinal blockage, talk with a healthcare provider about what foods are safe for you. You may need to reduce fiber rather than increase it, especially during flare-ups.

Figuring out how to include the right amount of fiber in your diet might involve some trial and error. Take your time, get help from your healthcare provider, and don’t give up. Your reward will be better health through menopause and beyond.